It started out as a crush; cute and innocent. I would smile at her over the breakfast table, bring her coffee in bed, and watch stupid horror movies with her. At first she was a bit taken aback over my outburst in the hallway, but I quickly apologized and told her that I knew it was way out of line.
Soon we would go out together. Not a date, I said, just as friends. I spend a whole day showing her around London, teaching her how to ride the tube and ending it with a dinner at my favourite, little-known restaurant. We went to the movies, and she was quick to bash every romantic film I wanted to see, so instead we watched horrors and she loved it. And it gave me an excuse to put my arm around her, when she got scared.
When we went out with the others she would give me these secretive glances and smiles, a glance no one else would notice.
It ended up with us having private sleepovers in my room, cuddling in my bed, listening to the indie music that she likes, telling secrets and talking about private matters. She told me about her nightmares, and how she sometimes got bullied in college, for being friends with Zayn Malik from X-Factor. How she didn’t know what to do with her life, now that college was over, because she didn’t have a plan; when she was attending college she had a goal, now everything was falling apart. She complained about her parents, who pushed her to go to law school, when they knew her grades weren’t good enough.
She told me all of these things, but not once did I see her cry. She would talk about how a girl from her class called her a “drug-dealing skank” in front of everybody with a blank face, and afterward she would smile and ask me to put on a movie or change the song.
It was weird, but I somehow wanted her to cry. Just a bit. I wanted her to show some emotion, so I knew that the tough girl-attitude wasn’t just a facade.
But with our closeness and friendship came the jealousy. When her and Harry flirted and play fought, I would clench my fists under the table. When she left our nights out with a guy, secretly winking at me, I would fake a smile at her and come up with an excuse to Zayn. When we were cuddling in my bed, and she told me about her latest one-night-stand, I would hold my breath and try and change the subject.
And through all of this I couldn’t help but wonder; what kind of terms were we on?
“Look at the stars, look how they shine for you,” I sang along to the music, “and everything you do, yeah they were all yellow.” My index- and middle finger went from Penny’s chin, to her lips, to her pointy nose, up to her forehead and down again.
Again and again and again. We were having a lazy, hung over day in my bed. Or Penny was hung over. I had stayed home the night before, while she went out with the other guys. I had recently had a sudden inspiration for some new lyrics, and I spent all night writing them down.
“I hate Coldplay.” She mumbled and bit out after my finger.
“Why? They’re good.” I started fiddling with a lock of her hair, wrapping it around my finger.
“Says the hipster.”
“Hey!” She rolled to her stomach and tried to hit me over the head, but I darted her hand. She lunged out after me, her petite body landing flatly on mine. We were eye to eye, mouth to mouth and I could feel her hot breath on my lips. “Call me a hipster again and I will rip out all of that pretty, bleached hair of yours. Deal?”
“Deal.” I laughed and she wiggled around a bit, resting her head on my chest.
We were both silent for a long time. The music had stopped and her breath was steady, and I wondered if she had fallen asleep. Suddenly she mumbled:
“Can we stay like this forever? Just lying here, in bed, with no worries or troubles or promises to keep or people to care about.”
“I wish.” I answered, stroking her hair. We fell silent again, and I cleared my throat. The sound seemed almost noisy in the silence, and I could feel her jump a bit as it startled her. “Penny?” She hummed in response of her name. It was now or never. I could feel the question pressing in my stomach and throat. I had to ask her. “Ummm, what are we doing here?”
“Nothing as of right now. Why? D’you want to watch a movie or something?” She raised her head a bit and looked at me. I motioned for her to sit up and she did, as I moved to sit opposite of her.
It was weird sitting in my bed like that. We were usually sprawled out on it, messing up the covers, using a million pillows. Sitting up straight, looking directly at each other seemed so formal, and very out of place in a bed.
“No, I mean... What are we?” I sighed a bit. I already hated where this conversation was going, but I had to know. “Are we friends? Are we dating? Are we fu...”
“Woah, woah!” Penny held up her hands. “Slow down, Ireland. We’re most definitely just friends.”
“Okay, I know dating was kind of a far stretch, but... Don’t you want more out of this?” I searched for her hands, wanting to take them in mine, but they were in her lap. Balled into fists. “Don’t you ever think about us in a different way?”
“No, never.” She said firmly. “But taking this conversation into account, I bet you have.”
“Of course!” I sighed again; why did I have to ruin everything good for me? “Don’t tell me you haven’t thought of us, as anything other than friends.”
“Yes, I’ve thought of us as something else.” She said, and I could feel my heart take a leap, until she continued:
“I’ve thought of us as siblings, as cousins. I’ve wondered how it would be if we had known each other for years, or if you were the one I grew up with. I have thought of you dating my cousin, so you could become a part of my family, and we could get even closer. But not once have I ever thought of us as a couple. A couple of nutters, yes, but not a couple-couple. Never.”
Silence fell upon us. A tense, awkward silence.
“Penny, I’m sorry.” I whispered. “I just wanted you to know this, because... I really like you, and I feel like this could work out, if we just tried and...”
“Oh my God, I can’t believe that you’re doing this to me!” She yelled and got up from the bed, pulling a hoodie over her head. “You know who I am, you know how I feel! These past two weeks has been amazing for me, but what about you? Have they just been a way for you to get close to me, and then drop this bomb on me? I just... No.”
“Penny, please.” I got up and put my hands on her shoulders. “I’m sorry, forget what I said.”
“No, Niall, just get off me.” She shrugged my hands off her. “I can’t look at you right now, I... I’m going for a walk.”
“Stay here, can’t we just talk about this?”
“And what? Come to the conclusion we’re already at; I don’t want a relationship, Niall. I just... I need to clear my head.”
And then she left.
It was raining.
It was one of those summer showers, where it was raining cats and dogs, but it still managed to be warm outside. But even so, a pair of Toms, hot pants and a hoodie wasn’t enough to keep me warm.
I quickly got out my pack of smokes, lit one and took a long, hard drag. I closed my eyes and sighed.
I had no idea what to do or say; in just two weeks Niall had become one of my closest friends, and I wanted nothing more than to go back to him, and tell him that we could forget it all and move on. But... I couldn’t. I couldn’t just forget what he had just told me, it would always be in the back of my head, if I decided to go back to him and ignore it.
I started walking. I don’t know where I was heading, nowhere special. I just needed to take my mind off Niall, and walking seemed like a good idea. I walked and smoked for a couple of minutes, when the rain became harder and more persistent. I stood in front of a café, contemplating to go inside to get some shelter, when I heard someone yell:
“Oi! Penny, what are you doing?”
I turned around, and through the rain I saw Harry in his car, with the window rolled down, looking at me like I was a maniac.
“Contemplating lunch. You want some?” I smiled innocently. I tried to look my normal, happy self, but I was pretty sure I just looked like a drowned rat.
Harry grinned and nodded at me. He turned off the car and hurried into the café with me. We found a remote table, and while looking through the menus Harry said:
“So, are you going to tell me what you were doing out in the rain? Zayn was worried sick about you, when you didn’t answer your phone, so he send me out after you.”
“I just wanted some fresh air...”
“And pneumonia?” Harry finished my sentence and laughed. “You look like proper shit, babes. Just tell me what the hell you were doing outside, in this weather, wearing that outfit.”
I sighed and told him. I told him everything; how I had enjoyed the newfound friendship between Niall and I, until just an hour ago, where he decided to ruin it. I told him how I had snapped at Niall and left him, and now I had no clue what to do.
“Whoa, that’s a mouthful.” Harry said. “You need a drink.” He looked after the waiter, and I laughed at him.
“Harry, it’s 2 in the afternoon.” I shook my head, and Harry looked thoughtful for a couple of seconds, before saying:
“You’re right. It’s too late to build up a good buzz, let’s make that one drink two.”
Harry was wrong about the buzz.
After a lunch consisting of a salad and heaps of drinks, I was pretty damn drunk. I was so drunk that Harry had to almost carry me out of the restaurant, and into the taxi he had called, since he was almost as drunk as I was.
“Oh, Hazza, do we have to go home?” I whined, as we drove through the streets. The rain had stopped, but the sky was still warningly dark. “I want to go out and dance!”
“It’s 4.30p.m., lovely, it’s too early to go out!” Harry laughed and twisted a lock of my hair around my finger. I glanced at him with a pout, not pleased about the answer.
“But I don’t want to see,” I lowered my voice to a whisper, “Zayn and... You know who.”
“No, who?” Harry whispered back, his face so close to mine that I could smell the alcohol in his breath.
“The one whose name starts with an N... And ends with an Iall.”
We were both quiet for a while, until we spluttered with laughter. Harry’s curls bounced up and down, and it took him a while to get his breath back and say:
“Okay, I will smuggle you into my room and keep you there, until the storm is over.”
All those years of sneaking out of the house was finally paying off, because when we were out of the taxi and in the apartment it seemed like I was the one smuggling Harry into his room. We creeped past the kitchen, where the other guys were having a loud dinner conversation, tiptoed down the hallway and gently closed Harry’s door behind us. I slumped down on his bed, looking at the walls which were filled with different music posters.
“We should totally become private detectives.” I said, a bit out of breath. Harry sat down and hovered over me, his curls falling around his face. “We would be so good at it. We could sneak around, and no one would notice us. We could go on ad-“
I got cut off by Harry’s lips on mine. Everything was happening really fast, and suddenly he was straddling me, taking control of the kiss. I got caught off guard, and for a couple of moments I didn’t know what to do; it’s not like I hadn’t thought of kissing Harry, because he’s hot and charming, and I know it would only be a short fling, something casual and fun. But it took me a minute or two to catch up on him, and it’s actually really nice. Nicer than any of the other guys from London’s kisses.
Harry knew what he was doing, moving his very soft lips against mine. He sucked on my bottom lip, it made a sound and we both start laughing. That’s one of the best things about drunk kissing; you can go from making out to laughing, in a matter of seconds. I gently pushed Harry down, rolling to my side and lying face to face with him. He’s very beautiful, even when he’s drunk. He kissed me again, and after a minute or two I felt his hand on my back, under my shirt. He smirked into the kiss, when I tried pulling his T-shirt off.
It was almost off, when suddenly there was a knock on the door. We both looked at each other with wide eyes, and Harry said in a hoarse voice:
“Hey man, it’s me Zayn.” I heard a familiar voice say, and we both panicked; Harry jumped off the bed, throwing a blanket over me in the process. “Can I come in?”
“Yeah, just a second...” Harry answered, adding in a whisper:
“Pretend you’re asleep!”
I pressed my eyes shut, listening to Harry walking over the carpeted floor and opening the door.
“Quiet down a bit, she’s asleep.” Harry mumbled to Zayn. “Sorry we didn’t say hi, but we had lunch and she was just really tired after that.” In my mind I praised Harry for being so good at acting sober.
“Oh yeah, good enough.” Zayn said in a low voice. “Guess I have to tell Niall, he’s pretty worried about her, y’know? With them being such good friends and all.”
I felt a knot forming in my stomach, at the thought of the fight Niall and I had had.
“Sure, I’ll just stay here and make sure she’s okay when she wakes up, yeah?” Harry said. I could hear in his voice how he tried to hide a smile.
“Okay, yeah. Thanks, mate.” Zayn answered. “I know I’ve been quite harsh about you and Penny and all, but I’m glad to see that you’ve taken such good care of her. She’s like a baby sister to me, you know? Even though I was a bit of a dickhead, I knew I could trust you not to do anything stupid.”